The Colonel Joins the Fray
Within a month of meeting Boyd, Sprey simultaneously joined forces with another remarkable officer, Colonel Avery Kay. An ethically moral straight shooter, Col. Kay served in the USAF Headquarters Concepts and Doctrine staff office under then Air Force Chief of Staff General John McConnell. Highly decorated during WWII, as lead navigator, Kay led the extraordinarily dangerous Schweinfurt bombing mission deep into Germany’s industrial heartland. In post- WWII Europe, Kay taught a pioneering course in low-level bombing navigation for under-the-radar nuclear bomber missions and flew with students on night missions at tree-top level to drop agents into Eastern Europe. Highly capable, Kay rose in rank and was assigned to Air Force Headquarters.
The Key West Agreements
in 1965, as staff officer in concepts and doctrine, Col. Kay was tasked to support the negotiations between Air Force Chief Of Staff Gen. McConnell and Army Chief Of Staff Harold Johnson regarding each service’s responsibilities regarding helicopter and fixed wing assets—an extension of the original 1948 Key West Agreements between The Air Force and Army. McConnell and Johnson agreed that the Army would be lead service in all helicopter development and procurement. In return, the Air Force would take over all of the Army’s fixed wing transport aircraft as well as all fixed wing observation and armed planes, along with an Air Force promise to provide first-rate close support to the army whenever needed in the future. Col. Kay was assigned to write up this agreement and in 1966 the two chiefs duly signed it. Within six months Col. Kay realized that the Air Force had no interest in fulfilling the close support promise that he had helped write. Being an extraordinarily ethical officer, he felt personally responsible for making good on that promise and dedicated the rest of his career to doing so. He soon came up with a solution.
A Tremendously Costly Rotorcaft…to Replace Tactical Jets?
Recognizing the Air Force’s disinterest in close support, the Army started developing the AH-56 Cheyenne, a complex, high-tech armed helicopter to provide the missing close support and planned to buy 1,000 rotorcraft. Recognizing this, Col. Kay explained to McConnell that each Cheyenne cost 1 ½ times more than the most expensive fighter the Air Force was buying, the F-4—and, moreover, the Army intended to get congress to fund 1,000 of them. If the Air Force did not come up with a better, less expensive way to provide that close support, Col. Kay said Congress would indeed fund the 1000 Cheyennes and the money would come out of the Air Force’s hide. If that happened, Gen. McConnell would go down in history as the Chief of Staff who lost the CAS mission. The only workable counter to the Army would be to offer congress a more lethal, more survivable plane that could loiter over the troops for longer with greater payloads- and that cost much less than the Cheyenne. Gen. McConnell was convinced, and subsequently approved the development of such a plane- then assigned Col. Kay to make it happen.
The Mission Nobody Wanted
Col. Kay had no technical capabilities in his office and needed help. Quite reasonably, he asked both the Headquarters R&D staff and Wright Patterson’s Aeronautical Systems Division for engineers and budget. All he received was a low ranking officer disinterested in the low-priority and undesirable CAS mission. Essentially, McConnell’s staff of 3-Star generals had no interest in sacrificing budget or personnel for a mission they didn’t believe in and figured that McConnell was on the hook and if it failed, he would be the fall guy. Dismayed, happenstance occurred for Col. Kay.
The Dreaded Two Job Routine
As Pierre’s highly confrontational Air Force Deep Strike Bombing study was circulated to the various Air Force staffs for help in discrediting the study, Col. Kay read the report with enthusiasm. Undeterred, without authorization, and outside the chain of command, Col. Kay approached Pierre to see if Pierre would help with the technical aspects of launching the CAS airplane. Renting a quasi-secret think tank office outside the Pentagon, Kay and Pierre began discussing how to to shape the new A-X concept. Pierre now had two jobs, 9 to 5 working for McNamara and 6 to midnight for Col. Kay.